The families of Michael and Anne Harris, the American couple on board Air France Flight 447, filed suit this week in Houston federal court. It’s the first lawsuit arising from the crash. The most frequently asked questions about this suit are:
Question: Aren’t the families jumping the gun? The black boxes haven’t yet been recovered, and may never be. For all we know, this may have been the result of a chance encounter with a thunderstorm. The crash may have been an unavoidable accident with no one to blame.
Answer: The Montreal Convention is the international treaty that governs all claims against airlines involving international air travel. Under the convention, Air France is responsible even if the the crash was "just an accident." As a result, Air France must compensate the families for their loss regardless of what the cause of the crash turns out to be.
Question: Flight 447 was from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on a French airline. Why should the families be allowed to sue in Houston, of all places?
Answer: The Montreal Convention allows the families to sue in the country of the passenger’s "principal and permanent" residence. The families say that, though the couple was living in Brazil, the couple maintained a permanent residence in The Woodlands, a suburb of Houston. If that’s so, the families have a good argument tha they are entitled to sue in Houston.
Question: Why did the families file suit in federal court, rather than state court?
Answer: Many aviation lawyers believe that state courts are more favorable than federal courts for family members who have suffered a loss. So victims’ attorneys often prefer to sue in state court. However, a fairly new federal statute requires almost all cases arising from large air disasters to be heard in federal court.
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